Circles of Influence

After getting married, I moved to “the Flower City” (aka Rochester, New York) a name given the city in the mid-1800s because of it’s reputation for “horticultural excellence.” (Fun fact: Rochester was first known as the “Flour city,” in homophonic coincidence, because of the number of flour mills built along the waterfalls of the Genesee River.)


We lived on the twelfth floor of a large graduate student housing complex off a busy intersection sandwiched in between a grocery store and a hospital. From our apartment, we could look over the concrete slab of our immediate world onto the trees and green space of the nearby neighborhoods and parks.


Highland Park, famous for it’s thousands of lilac bushes, was less than a mile from our home. In the late 1800’s two influential Rochester men in the gardening world planted thousands of lilac bushes on this land. One day in May 1898, with the lilacs in full bloom, an unplanned group of nearly three thousand people came to the park to enjoy the cumulative sights and smells of these gorgeous plants. Shortly afterwards, the Lilac Festival was born.



Being so close, we’d walk or run through the park a few times a week. But during the blooms, you could smell lilac as you drove your car down Highland Avenue. Being in the park was like being in an enchanted world. With a green backdrop, multiple shades of purple and bursts of white turned the air sweet as honey and we’d linger for hours, getting lost within the bushes, trying to find “our favorite one.”






Despite the monuments and memorials, museums and many attractions, when someone asks me about my favorite thing about living here, I say “the Cherry Blossoms.”



In 1912, 3000 cherry trees were a gift from the mayor of Tokyo to the city of Washington, DC and every year, nearly one million people from all over the world come to see the blossoms through the sixteen day festival. Cherry trees bloom in the early spring all over Washington, but the full-bloom display around the tidal basin is a sight to behold (and my pictures don’t do it justice).


It’s such a privilege to experience walking under their paper thin pink and white blossoms; to take advantage of the beauty of these blooms, ones people travel from all over the world to see. Some who consider it a once-in-a-lifetime event. And it’s practically in our back yard.





The spring after we moved into this house, I planted stargazer lilies in our front flowerbed. (Please understand, we’d been married for 13 years and never had a square inch of outdoor space to call our own. Gardening was this whole new exciting world to me.)


My first memory of stargazers was from the front flowerbed in the house I grew up in. When I was a teen six or eight stalks would grow each spring and bloom in late summer. I loved their spotted fuschia inside lined with white. And that smell. Their fragrance would welcome you as you walked the path to our front door.  



My second memory of stargazer lilies is from the spray on the casket at my mom’s funeral.


For years, I’d turn away from any bouquet of Get Well flowers in the hospital or the grocery store. (I’ve heard smell is the most evocative of our senses.) But with enough time, the smell of those flowers stopped evoking a painful response and their beauty became a tangible memory of my youth. In my own flowerbed, they are a reminder that life is bittersweet. Full of pain, full of promise. 




These plants don’t know if they are affecting one family or a million people, yet they bloom. 


Each one of us was made unique. With individualized gifts, talents, personalities, friends, dreams, jobs, neighborhoods and we were planted in a particular place and made for specific seasons of blooming.


You were planted in a particular place and you were created to bloom.


More than a “bloom where you’re planted” message, I want to encourage you to look out and beyond.


Bloom how you were created to and where you’re planted BECAUSE in your blooming, you WILL affect the people in your home, neighborhood, community, and world.


We are not to strive after influence, but influence is inherent to blooming.


Influence is inherent to blooming.

Sometime I have a hard time really getting my head around the details of how we (Chris and I and our family) ended up where we are why, exactly. Sometimes I get that
stuck feeling. (ex. Every single time I’m driving on the beltway, actually.) 


But when I question my life (and this usually happens at least once a month), I go back to the constant: the God of Heaven is in charge of where we are, what we do, and most importantly who He created us to be is His divine flower bed.


You might be elbow deep in diapers, crying through your day.

You could be wearing a suit and meeting with congressmen.

You could be volunteering in school or sitting in (yet another) meeting.

You could be playing blocks.

You could be designing buildings.

You could be doing surgery. Teaching. Managing. Gardening. Writing. Counseling. Pouring over spreadsheets. Cooking. Preaching. Studying barnacles…(** this is not a comprehensive list.)


The lilac bush in my backyard isn’t a part of the Lilac festival in Rochester, nor is the weeping cherry in our front yard part of the display each spring in DC. My plants cannot change the fact they are firmly planted in this suburban yard. (Many of us have roots growing deep in our own suburban landscape, don’t we?)


Yet, what kind of yearly festival would it be in Rochester, if every lilac bush decided not to bloom? (“I’m just a stay-at-home lilac. What do I have to offer? I can’t make a difference. I don’t even know where to start with this whole blooming business…”)


Or what if every single Cherry tree in DC was too scared or too busy or worried to let their individual beauty show? (“I mean, what’s the point? There are so many other trees here. Someone else will probably bloom and take care of it. I’m not even that good of a bloomer. I’m sure they don’t need me. Plus, I have a ton of other stuff I could do instead.”)


We all have circles of influence.


And it’s possible we’ll never actually know how big they are.


But my guess is, when we’re in full bloom, our circles of influence are larger than we ever could imagine.




Lilac images from: User:LtPowers and this link. 

Sonya Spillmann


  1. Thanks Sonya for the reminder to “bloom where ever we are” that the Master Gardener knows best!

  2. Liked thinking about your post in light of the fact that, just like a flower, shrub or tree, I’m not always blooming, but have seasons of appearing rather stark and bare.

    • Pat – I totally agree about having seasons, for sure. I think the application of plants to our lives is almost endless! (subject matter for future posts?) 🙂
      In light of how I was so afraid to write, and I feel like there are SO many women “afraid” or “fearful” of using their God-given gifts, I wanted to encourage people to bloom in that way–because that’s what we were made to do.

  3. And you just expanded your area of influence! Wow, Sonya, what a wonderful read….thank you for using your gift and blooming brightly in my world!

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